Some Thoughts on Teaching & Expanding Behavior Analysis Skill Sets

Ryan O'Donnell, MS, BCBA

Ryan O'Donnell, MS, BCBA

I've been exploring behavior analysis and related areas for a little over 8 years. Along the way, there were some fantastic mentors that led me down hundreds of additional books, thousands of articles, countless practice and lab hours, etc. I thought I was ready to save the world, and in a way, I was equipped to work with a few populations within isolated funding streams that by in large keep behavior analysts alive and well. It's awesome that our field has a niche AND has so much more potential for growth. 

I realized about 3 years ago that I was so engulfed with traditional or mainstream behavior analysis that I wasn't aware of the world around me and what it had to offer. It started an expedition of 16-20 hour days keeping my feet wet in behavior analysis half of the day and spending the other half exploring sales, marketing, technology, computer science, entrepreneurship, amongst other areas. It's kind of amazing what other fields have to offer behavior analysis. Some of the world's largest influencers of behavior don't lie in our field - sure we have an extremely strong set of philosophical worldviews, conceptual systems, measurement systems, and behavior change strategies. One way to kind of summarize the effect exploring other areas of the world had me is how I describe the field to those that have never heard of it before: My pitch of "what our field does" has changed from "we can do anything!" to "We could offer a lot, but we have a lot of work to still do in creating packaged solutions that help people with their day-to-day problems." (It changes based on the industry or field I'm speaking with, but that's kind of the gist.) We need more packaged solutions, simple as that. They can't compromise on integrity, but they need to be scalable and they need to be created by our community and other professionals.

I also realized that there's so much to learn in behavior analysis, and why my professors and mentors have always been in a position where they said "you need to read X" or I would say things like, "How do I use Y in practice?" It's not easy teaching what every badass behavior analyst and dream chaser relied on to create an awesome behavioral technology or provide an exceptional service. I haven't learned it all, but there's a lot of valuable information that's out there that isn't really known. Last I checked about 90% of what I "rely" on in practice was not covered in, but built off of my undergraduate and graduate training in behavior analysis - and that's a bad thing, it's just that there is so much more out there that isn't in the mainstream, or is tagged under the 14-page suggested readings lists that every awesome professor hands to you, etc.  

There's definitely a need for more resources and a stronger movement.  I'm not sure where that movement should be, to be completely honest... I haven't been able to find it really, but I have been able to find like-minded people where who could collectively create systems that inspired others, taught skill sets beyond most approved sequences, and led to projects that actually moved behavior analysis into areas that were really disseminating the science and leading to real-world opportunities to carry out the vision of "behavior analysis saving the world." It's not *that* hard, it just requires a lot of work, and a lot of patience and strategy coupled with our beautiful science.

What I'm asking is that if anyone is interested in exploring how to take their skill sets into a new area of behavior, or is looking for that partner or skill set to make their idea come to life, or want to collectively work together to identify and realize opportunities for behavior analysis that aim to put a dent in the universe then please check out where a collective group of "doers" are beginning here at We have blog content and video coming out weekly, plenty of social media platforms to explore and engage on, and an in-person and online event that aims to be much different than just about everything else out there currently.  I can't promise that this is going to lead to anything that I said above anymore "clear," but I can say that we're going to learn something that will allow us to iterate and move forward - and we're committing 100% to making an impact.